Expert Coaching. Practical Resources.

November 11, 2020


Rose Mercier

How a Board can Embrace Diversity

It would be hard not to notice the proliferation of media stories, academic and industry research, anecdotal evidence, and statistics about the diversity – or lack thereof – on boards of directors. Corporate boards, in particular, have been under pressure from institutional investors, governments and regulators to address gender diversity, and there are many excellent surveys of the current state of diversity on corporate boards.

Although lacking in the visibility accorded to their corporate counterparts, boards in the nonprofit and public sectors are also addressing the importance of diversity. Importantly, these sectors are broadening the definition of diversity to also include ethnicity/race, age, ability and sexual orientation. Which brings me to the subject of this blog: how might a Policy Governance® board take a comprehensive approach to diversity? Here are five ideas:

Be intentional about ownership linkage: A board should explore the ways in which owners see diversity impacting the organization’s future. It might also segment owners so that it connects with those who offer perspectives reflecting different dimensions of diversity. The board may discover, for example, that the diversity among the organization’s beneficiaries and customers needs to be addressed in Ends and Executive Limitations policies.

Be future focused: If a board has been engaged in future-focused education and deliberation, it might have arrived at an understanding of the growing importance of diversity and its potential impact on its organization. It would certainly have learned that millennials place a high value on diversity.

Incorporate diversity as a consideration in board member profile: The board may have or want to develop a Governance Process policy that addresses the importance of diversity in the composition of the board. It might add diversity as a consideration in the recruitment of directors, along with the skills, experiences and qualities it has previously identified in the director’s profile.

Look for ways to gain insights: It may take a while to achieve a desirable level of diversity in the board’s membership. Be creative. Add a youth director if your bylaws allow this. Invite presentations from groups or individuals whose views will help you to appreciate different perspectives on important issues.

Pay attention to images and language: A board that values diversity may develop an Executive Limitations policy that states that it would unacceptable if the images, online presence, publications produced by the organization did not, for example, appropriately reflect the diversity of the public or membership.

Decision making which purposefully incorporates diversity of perspectives is increasingly understood to be essential for navigating the complexity and dynamism of today’s environment. It is not necessary to puzzle over how to have representatives from different groups on the board. (Besides, this often only leads to tokenism.) A board that is using Policy Governance has many tools through which it assures itself that its actions and those of management embrace the value of diversity.

Our consulting team has over 25 years of experience working with hundreds of boards to incorporate important values into their policies and practices. We would welcome the opportunity to work with your board.

If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.” – George S. Patton



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